Backpacks for ‘food insecure’
By Karen Schwaller
EVERLY – The Clay Central-Everly FFA Chapter was recently awarded $1,500 to conduct activities that increase agricultural awareness in their communities and interest among youth in food production and life sciences.
The chapter is one of eight FFA chapters in Iowa which were awarded Planting a Seed grants by the Iowa Food and Family Project.
The program is sponsored by DuPont Pioneer and the Iowa FFA Foundation.
Betsy Schoelerman, FFA adviser for CC-E schools, said this is the second year they have received this kind of grant money.
Last year, the chapter used the money to host an ag career fair and pack meals to be sent to Haiti with the organization Meals From the Heartland, a Des Moines-based operation which conducted its first meal packaging event in Northwest Iowa at CC-E Schools.
“We packed 16,659 meals, utilizing over 50 volunteers from our community as well as our FFA members,” Schoelerman said.
This year the FFA chapter will take a three-fold approach to reaching out to its community, and at the same time, teach about Iowa agriculture.
“We got the idea because of an FFA contest we participated in,” she said. “We did some research on a backpack food program (for needy students), and it was a natural progression from that contest to write the grant.
“I wrote the grant last December with the help of a couple of the FFA officers.”
The backpack snack program, called MAVPack, will consist of the purchase of some smaller-sized nylon drawstring backpacks that will be filled with simple foods that children can prepare themselves at home over the weekends and during school vacations.
The backpacks will say, MAVPack on them, incorporating the school’s mascot – a Maverick. MAVPacks will be placed discreetly inside the backpacks of students in that district who are considered food insecure. They will also promote healthy eating habits.
Schoelerman said the backpack food program is something that’s being done across the country.
“Some of the research we’ve done indicates that one in six students in America is food insecure,” Schoelerman said of the reason the chapter wanted to seek funding to purchase backpacks and food items.
Schoelerman said the purchase of healthy foods on a weekly basis for this project is expensive, and that she and her chapter continue to search for new avenues of funding for the MAVPack project.
“We hope to expand this to receive other funds, or by involving community groups to either help financially, help pack the backpacks or help in the (school) garden,” she said.
Family sign-up for the MavPack program will be happening soon in the CC-E school district.
The second phase of the project will be starting a school garden, which they will do this coming spring.
“We hope to put some of that fresh produce into the MAVPacks when it’s ready, maybe this fall,” Schoelerman said. “It will be an opportunity for elementary through high school students to learn about (horticulture) skills, and learn that it’s not very hard to grow your own food.”
The third phase of the grant project will be of a larger scope, with the FFA chapter hosting a “Sponsor Food for America Family Night.” FFA members will teach elementary school pupils and their families about where food comes from, and explain the MAVPack program.
“It will talk about how gardening is the basis of food production,” Schoelerman said. “Our FFA members will collaborate on this event and will teach all of the sessions.”
Schoelerman said this three-phase approach can only be successful to those involved.
“I know that in our school district, in our county, in Iowa and across America there are a lot of families that are food insecure,” she said. “As an FFA chapter, our goal is to make a difference to them.
“Our FFA members can learn and can also help educate people about making good decisions about food, and help them learn how to grow their own food.”
The eight Iowa FFA chapters hat received grants will be recognized in April at the Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference in Ames. At that time, the chapter determined to have conducted the most innovative and successful activity will be presented a $2,000 Award of Excellence to be used for general chapter activities.
Clay Central-Everly’s FFA chapter boasts 59 members in grades 7 through 12. Twenty-nine of those members are from the new middle school FFA chapter, which organized during the current school year.
Other chapters receiving the grant include Boone A&M FFA; Charles City FFA; LaPorte Dysart FFA; Nevada FFA; Starmont FFA in Arlington; Tri-Star FFA in Guttenberg and West Liberty FFA.
A total of 54 Iowa FFA chapters submitted applications, according to Aaron Putze, director of communications for the Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa FFP (Food and Family Project) coordinator.
“The tremendous response to this program is an indication of the growing interest there is in FFA, food production and ag-related careers. We look forward to working with grant recipients to implement their successful programs,” Putze said.
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